Good news! Baseball cards are alive and well in the 21st century. In his 30+ years in the hobby, Mark Rubin of American Legends has witnessed some extraordinary changes in the industry. The first was the error card craze that began with the 1979 Topps Bump Wills variation and culminated with the 1981 Fleer “Craig” Nettles error card. In 1981, the hobby made headlines when Donruss and Fleer joined Topps to produce baseball cards. The Topps’ monopoly had ended and it was big news.
Shortly after, rookie card speculation and vintage cards dominated the market. Soon collectors were feverishly chasing Don Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis rookies. Fortunately, they also pursued Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Babe Ruth cards. With the meteoric rise of the price of vintage cards, treasure hunters went through their attics searching for cardboard gold. With all the great items hitting the market, both new and old, the frenzy fed off of itself.
In 1989, Upper Deck joined the field of manufacturers and ushered in the era of high-end product. Within a few years, premium products such as Stadium Club and Finest pushed the envelope in technology and desirability. After the shakeout from the 1994 baseball strike, thousands of collectors returned to the hobby in 1998 to follow the home run heroics of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
In fact, baseball’s resurgence led to a hobby boom in the late 1990’s. Game-used jersey cards and autographs became regular inserts into unopened packs. For the past decade, even in modern products, vintage has been the name of the game. Manufactures have produced reissue cards in the styles of the 1950šs and 1960šs featuring current players to try to peel off some of the vintage demand. And in the past 10 years, sales of the crown jewel of baseball cards, the T206 Honus Wagner have soared from $500,000 to $2.8 million.
Memorabilia also saw tremendous changes during this period. Upper Deck Authenticated introduced the matching hologram and certificate of authenticity giving collectors confidence that their items were genuine. Vintage autographs have also soared in popularity as 3rd party authenticators such as PSA/DNA and James Spence provided assurance for previously signed items.
So where does that leave the collector in 2012 and beyond? As we always tell our customers at American Legends “Buy what you like, not what you think is going to be valuable.” Whether it’s a single card, a complete set or a memorabilia/signed item, if you like it, it will always maintain its value.